Food

Lunchroom brawl!

For the first time in decades, a healthy school-lunch debate opens

First it was the 2008 (nee 2007) Farm Bill. Then it was Obama’s choices for the top USDA posts. Now it’s the National School Lunch Program. Food issues once lived at the margins of U.S. political discourse, where agribusiness and food-industry interests could control them. Now they’re inching toward the center. A new era has dawned: U.S. politicians can no longer grin, take the cash, and do the bidding of agribiz while mouthing platitudes about farmers as the “backbone of our country” and school lunches as “critical to our nation’s most important resource, our children.” The latest manifestation of the …

After the green economy, green security

How to build resilient communities in a chaotic world

This is a guest essay by Chip Ward, a former grassroots organizer/activist who has led several successful campaigns to hold polluters accountable. He described his political adventures in Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West and Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land. This post was originally published at TomDispatch, and it is republished here with Tom's kind permission. ----- Now that we've decided to "green" the economy, why not green homeland security, too? I'm not talking about interrogators questioning suspects under the glow of compact fluorescent light bulbs, or cops wearing recycled Kevlar recharging their Tasers via solar panels. What I mean is: Shouldn't we finally start rethinking the very notion of homeland security on a sinking planet? Now that Dennis Blair, the new Director of National Intelligence, claims that global insecurity is more of a danger to us than terrorism, isn't it time to release the idea of "security" from its top-down, business-as-usual, terrorism-oriented shackles? Isn't it, in fact, time for the Obama administration to begin building security we can believe in; that is, a bottom-up movement that will start us down the road to the kind of resilient American communities that could effectively recover from the disasters -- manmade or natural (if there's still a difference) -- that will surely characterize this emerging age of financial and climate chaos? In the long run, if we don't start pursuing security that actually focuses on the foremost challenges of our moment, that emphasizes recovery rather than what passes for "defense," that builds communities rather than just more SWAT teams, we're in trouble. Today, "homeland security" and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that unwieldy amalgam of 13 agencies created by the Bush administration in 2002, continue to express the potent, all-encompassing fears and assumptions of our last president's Global War on Terror. Foreign enemies may indeed be plotting to attack us, but, believe it or not (and increasing numbers of people, watching their homes, money, and jobs melt away are coming to believe it), that's probably neither the worst, nor the most dangerous thing in store for us.

Pasta goes green!

A new low-carbon (if not low-carb) way to cook the Italian staple

When it comes to Italian cooking, I'm very Church of Marcella Hazan, orthodox sect. What the exacting doyenne of Italian food tells me to do in her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, I do. No questions asked. In her celebrated chapter on pasta -- which I revere like Christians revere the Gospels -- Hazan had this to say about the role of water: Pasta needs lots of water to move around in, or it becomes gummy. Four quarts of water are required for a pound of pasta. Never use less than three quarts, even for a small amount of pasta. She also laid down the law on salt in pasta cookery. For every pound of pasta, put in no less than 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt... Add the salt when the water comes to a boil. For about 15 years, through literally hundreds of pounds of pasta (I conservatively estimate 650 pounds), I followed these instructions. The great results I got were like worldly riches to a Calvinist -- proof that I had chosen the right path. Now everything has changed. Reality has been overturned. In a recent New York Times article, the eminent food-science writer Harold McGee issued a decree tantamount to a papal renunciation of the Immaculate Conception. Turns out, you don't need "lots of water" for pasta -- two quarts will do. As for salt, two teaspoons is enough. (Although, in terms of salt-per-water, McGee's suggestion is only a little less than Hazan's.) Moreover -- this is the part that really sent a cold chill of apostasy down my spine -- you can put the pasta in the water before it boils; while it's cold, in fact. For the non-food-obsessed, there is a green angle here.

Organic chemistry

Why isn’t ‘organic pesticide’ an oxymoron?

In Checkout Line, Lou Bendrick cooks up answers to reader questions about how to green their food choices and other diet-related quandaries. Lettuce know what food worries keep you up at night. Ms. Bendrick, I have a question about pesticides and organic food. I buy organic both to encourage the right kind of farming and to avoid eating nasty chemicals. I was listening to the Food Chain Radio podcast (MP3) and suffice it to say that this show’s guest expert questioned whether the pesticides organic growers are allowed to use (!) are any better for us than the ones conventional …

Where the Wild Greens Are

When the season’s first edible weeds poke through, it’s time for gumbo z’herbes

You can’t beat them, you might as well eat them. Here in central North Carolina, the harbingers of spring have arrived. No, not daffodils. I’m talking about my favorite wild greens: pepper cress and dandelions. Just this week, I’ve tucked handfuls of these herbs into sandwiches, topped pizza with them, and folded some into soft scrambled eggs. Their peppery kick and bittersweet bite are just what I need after a winter of sweet, earthy, and starchy root vegetables. Almost everyone I’ve encountered loves young spring greens — even if they don’t know it. For the uninitiated, I wait until the …

Sustainable second in command

Kathleen Merrigan is a progressive's dream pick for the USDA

I guess this whole "activism" thing sometimes works. To have Kathleen Merrigan, one of Food Democracy Now's Sustainable Dozen, named deputy secretary of agriculture is, as Tom Philpott suggests, a huge win for progressives. Say what you will about the USDA Organic program, but Merrigan, as its author and later its enforcer, has been without question battle-tested. In his post, Tom linked to Samuel Fromartz's perspective on Merrigan from back in November. But it's worth digging in to the comments as well. There you'll find none other than Frank Kirschenmann (another Sustainable Dozener about whom I've written) giving Merrigan his hearty endorsement. Further down is evidence in the form of a WaPo profile from 2000 (now behind a firewall) that Merrigan didn't shy away from battles. I was particularly struck by her conflicts with the various agricultural advisory committees -- a bunch of guys who clearly lacked both social graces as well as a sense of humor: After Merrigan was appointed in June, she immediately launched a controversial crusade to diversify those white-male-dominated advisory committees, forcing them to establish outreach plans to recruit women, minorities and disabled people. In many cases, she refused to forward their nomination slates to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman until she was satisfied with their commitment to diversity. After she blocked nominations to the Florida Tomato Committee, complaining that it hadn't made a "significant effort" to attract women and minorities, the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, lampooned her in an article titled "Attack of the Tomato Killers." The Packer, an agricultural publication, described her crusade as "Beltway Blindness." In a nasty letter to Glickman, committee manager Wayne Hawkins said he was resigning and going into business: "I plan to find a female Afro-American who is confined to a wheelchair to be my partner. This way I will meet all of the government diversification requirements."

Notable Quotable

Let's mend, not end, ag subsidies

"It's a dead end to try and eliminate subsidies, because then you get all of America's farmers, who have political power out of all proportion of their number, unified against change. Right now the incentives are to produce as much as possible, whatever the costs to the environment and our health. But you can imagine another set of assumptions, so that they're getting incentives to sequester carbon. Or clean the water that leaves their farm, or for the quality, not the quantity, of the food they're growing." -- Michael Pollan, reflecting a growing consensus

Brewer's Dozen

In our latest tasting, organic beer comes of age

Imagine Norman Bates, twisted hero of Hitchcock’s Psycho, stumbling into a funhouse of mirrors and finding Mother at the center, her image reflected on a thousand surfaces surrounding him. He might freak out, right? That’s a bit how I feel when I walk into Carrboro Beverage Co., a small and extremely well-stocked beer store in Carrboro, N.C. The walls and cooler displays form a veritable crazy-quilt of craft beers from around the world — but mostly from the United States, which has become the global leader in artisanal brewing. I usually have to make myself steer clear of the place …

Michelle Obama, locavore

First Lady promotes 'fresh and local and delicious' veggies at state dinner

I wish I could "friend" Michelle Obama -- in  real life, not on MyFace or whatever that thing is called.  Last week, she sent a verbal Valentine to community gardens. More recently, she snuck a bunch of  reporters into the White House kitchen, where she sang the praises of local food. According to a New York Times report, the First Lady served up a discourse worthy of the Berkeley sustainable-food doyenne Alice Waters: When food is grown locally, [Obama] said, "oftentimes it tastes really good, and when you're dealing with kids, you want to get them to try that carrot.""If it tastes like a real carrot, and it's really sweet, they're going to think that it's a piece of candy," she continued. "So my kids are more inclined to try different vegetables if they are fresh and local and delicious." Now, some wags might protest that, as the Times reports, Wagyu beef appeared on the menu that night. Was it imported all the way from Japan? Fed on grass -- or industrial corn? Why isn't the White House sourcing beef from celebrated, pastured-based nearby farms like Polyface? All legit questions, but ... when can we come by and perform a perfection-check on your fridge and larder? I like Ms. Obama, not just because she can wax Waters-esque about carrots. I also admire her sharp critical edge -- the one she displayed during the campaign, when she made her famous speech about being proud of America for the first time in a while. She got pilloried by cable TV hosts and muzzled by campaign handlers, but she had a point: 30 years of stagnant wages, a Ponzi-like financial system reliant on a series of absurd bubbles, a hollowed-out education system, the buildout of a high-profit, low-nutrition, high-polluting food system, the willlful refusal to address vital issues like climate change... As Ms. Obama finds her sea legs aboard the good ship White House, I hope she continues to explore her inner locavore -- and season it with a dash of critical political/economic thought.

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